Busy journalist Jane McClure still finds time to give at the Minnesota State Fair
Jane McClure is a newspaper reporter. Has been for 52 years. But unless you read the Highland Villager or the Midway-Como-Frogtown Monitor in St. Paul, you might not recognize the byline.
St. Paul city leaders know McClure, though. She is arguably the busiest, most thorough and most dogged reporter prowling City Hall. Now in her 60s, grappling with disabilities — osteoarthritis, impaired vision, a hearing disorder and autism spectrum disorder — that would bench others, McClure isn’t slowing down.
Did we mention she volunteers, too? On Thursday, with the opening of the Minnesota State Fair, McClure will spend her scant free time working at the Hamline Church Dining Hall and the Minnesota Newspaper Museum.
Eye On St. Paul recently grabbed lunch with McClure to learn how, and why, she does it. This interview was edited for length.
Q: You are best known for your work over the years for community newspapers in St. Paul. Why is local news so important?
A: There’s a saying that all issues are local. And that’s where you engage people. It’s where they live.
Q: What are you looking for when you cover an issue?
A: You look for community impact. You look for, how does this affect people? I mean, news is where you live. I had that pounded into me by editors when I was a teenager. What’s happening with that vacant lot down the street? Why are my taxes going up?
Q: In addition to your crazy schedule as a freelance reporter, you edit Access Press?
A: I’m at Access Press part time. We’re the oldest multi-disability newspaper in the United States. We’re 32 years old. I work part time but that’s going to change when we go more to digital news. We’d like to do more and we’re in the process of studying how to do that.
[The Twin Cities] once had about 40 community papers at the peak. Now there’s not even a dozen. I remember when I delivered the papers in St. Paul on the West Side, North End and Frogtown and remember picking up the phone in the office, and having somebody say, “When are you hitting the streets? We’re planning a meeting.”
Nobody would do that now.
Q: You have also volunteered for decades at the Fair. Tell me about that.
A: There’s probably not a dozen of us who have been with the [Minnesota] Newspaper Museum the entire 35 years. We started in the mid-1980s, when the paper in Maynard, Minn., the Maynard News, switched from letterpress to offset press. They gave their letterpress equipment to the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation. Newspapers around the state raised $100,000 to start the museum.
We have a good board at the foundation, and we have a good crew of people who get the volunteers and run the presses and keep the old equipment in repair. We have old and big and heavy equipment, but it is also old and delicate.
Q: Why is the museum important?
A: On one level, we’re educational. Come in and see what a 1930s newspaper looked like. Another reason why we need to be there is local news is really important and the First Amendment is really important. Not just for the press, but for the five freedoms in general. I mean, how many people can name the five freedoms off the top of their head?
Freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition the government. That’s part of the bedrock of our society.
Q: You also volunteer at the Hamline Church Dining Hall. How long now?
A: I don’t even remember. Off and on for 20 years.
Q: Are you slinging hash?
A: I don’t sling hash. They don’t let me sling anything.
Q: What do you do for them?
A: I am the morning greeter. Every day. And I basically tell you where to go. I keep the breakfast line moving. I’m walking the coffee. I’m telling kids not to run in the dining hall. And keeping the cashiers busy. If you have a party of people, you want to keep them on the same side.
Q: You herd?
A: I herd. I grew up on a cattle farm [in Iowa], so it’s kind of like that.
Q: You do all this while living with disabilities?
A: And I live with clinical depression.
Q: You seem to have the respect of the people you cover.
A: I don’t know if it’s the same now. I mean the attacks on social media are just unreal. There are days I just have to take a pause. At the same time, I have to follow [social media] because that’s where we’re made aware of issues.
Q: How much longer can you keep up with this pace?
A: I don’t know. I mean, when elected officials ask me when I’m going to retire, I say, “When you ask that, I am going to add five years.” One reason I need to kick back, mentally and physically, is clinical depression, one of my disabilities. [But] isolating is never a good idea. The pandemic’s been really hard.
I often tell myself, when it stops being fun.
Q: I almost forgot — and you judge History Day?
A: That’s just fun.